With its blackened lava fields, craters and volcanic tubes, Lanzarote’s geology might be uncannily just like that of the Moon and Mars.
Kneeling on the sting of a deep crater, astronaut Alexander Gerst makes use of a chisel to gather a pattern of volcanic rock which he rigorously places inside a white plastic bag.
Gerst just isn’t on the Moon, even when it appears to be like prefer it. He’s in the course of Los Volcanes Pure Park on the island of Lanzarote in Spain’s Canary Islands, off the northwest coast of Africa.
With its blackened lava fields, craters and volcanic tubes, Lanzarote’s geology might be uncannily just like that of the Moon and Mars — a lot in order that the European Area Company (ESA) and NASA have for years been sending astronauts to the island to coach.
“This place has lavas which can be very, similar to those that we discover on the Moon,” Gerst, a 46-year-old German astronaut with the ESA, informed AFP.
He mentioned the island was “a singular coaching floor”.
Gerst, who has accomplished two missions on the Worldwide Area Station, is one in every of a few dozen astronauts who’ve taken half within the ESA’s Pangaea coaching course in Lanzarote over the previous decade.
Named after the traditional supercontinent, Pangaea seeks to present astronauts in addition to area engineers and geologists the talents wanted for expeditions to different planets.
Trainees learn to establish rock samples and accumulate them, do on-the-spot DNA evaluation of microorganisms, and talk their findings again to mission management.
“Right here, they’re put into the sector to expertise the exploration of a terrain, which is one thing they must do on the Moon,” mentioned Francesco Sauro, the technical director of the course.
Gerst mentioned the Pangaea coaching course, which he has simply accomplished, helps put together astronauts to work in a distant setting on their very own.
“If we run into an issue, we have now to resolve it ourselves,” he mentioned.
He accomplished the Pangaea coaching together with Stephanie Wilson, one in every of NASA’s most senior astronauts. Each are potential candidates for NASA’s subsequent crewed Moon missions.
Named for the goddess who was Apollo’s twin sister in historical Greek mythology, NASA’s Artemis programme goals to return astronauts to the Moon’s floor as early as 2025, although many specialists imagine that timeframe would possibly slip.
Twelve astronauts walked on the Moon throughout six Apollo missions from 1969 to 1972, the one spaceflights but to position people on the lunar floor.
NASA and the ESA additionally recurrently use Lanzarote’s panorama of twisted mounds of solidified lava to check Mars Rovers — distant managed autos designed to journey on the floor of the Purple Planet.
Lanzarote’s distinctive geography stems from a volcanic eruption that started in 1730 and lasted six years, spewing ash and lava over giant swathes of land.
Thought-about one of many biggest volcanic cataclysms in recorded historical past, the eruption devastated over 200 sq. kilometres (77 sq. miles) of terrain — a few quarter of the island which is presently dwelling to round 156,000 folks.
Whereas there are different volcanic areas comparable to Hawaii that may be used for astronaut coaching, Lanzarote has the benefit that it has little vegetation as a consequence of its desert-like local weather.
“You will have numerous several types of volcanic rocks in Lanzarote. And they’re uncovered. You do not have bushes,” mentioned Pangaea undertaking chief Loredana Bessone.
“You’ll be able to see far-off, as in the event you have been on the Moon,” she informed AFP.
The Canary Islands is making an enormous contribution to area exploration in one other approach too. The island of La Palma is dwelling to one of many world’s largest optical telescopes.
Situated on a peak, the Nice Canary Telescope is ready to spot among the faintest, most distant objects within the Universe.
La Palma was chosen as the positioning for the telescope due to its cloud-free skies and comparatively low gentle air pollution.